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Spotting a Heart Attack: It’s Not as Easy as You Think

LHSFNA Management
Co-Chairman
Noel C. Borck

In the U.S., someone experiences a heart attack about every 40 seconds, which impacts around 805,000 Americans every year. About 20 percent of those heart attacks are silent, meaning they’re either asymptomatic or cause symptoms that people don’t recognize as a heart attack.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, increased overdose rates and a rise in cancer cases in the U.S., heart disease still remains the biggest threat to your health,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “The LHSFNA offers many resources to help LIUNA members assess their risk of heart disease and make the lifestyle changes needed to live a long, healthy life.”

We’ve all seen the depictions of a heart attack in the media – falling to the ground, clutching your chest and feeling a sense of impending doom. However, heart attacks can present differently in different people. As heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. and second leading cause of death in Canada, it’s important to know all the warning signs, assess your personal risk and adopt heart-healthy habits.

Check out the LHSFNA’s new video to learn more about the lesser known symptoms of a heart attack.

There are several misconceptions about heart attacks: they’re an “old man’s disease,” they only happen to people who are unhealthy and the symptoms are always intense and sudden. In a survey of 2,000 American adults, half of respondents under age 45 believed they weren’t at risk of a heart attack and 32 percent reported they weren’t confident they would even know if they were having one.

In reality, anyone – men, women, old and young – can have a heart attack at any time and display a variety of symptoms that range in severity. For instance, women often experience milder heart attack symptoms (e.g., indigestion, nausea and fatigue) that get falsely attributed to less-threatening conditions such as acid reflux and anxiety. Additionally, many heart attack victims experience a slow onset of symptoms that can go unnoticed for hours or even days. If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately.

“If something suddenly seems new and it doesn’t make sense to you, seek medical attention,” said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “Don’t Google it to figure it out. Don’t ask somebody else. Let healthcare professionals decide if you’re having a heart attack or not.”

Symptoms of a Heart Attack
  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating profusely
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue

Preventing Heart Disease

Luckily, heart attacks are largely preventable with proper lifestyle modifications. Here are some of the steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Eat a healthy diet. The LHSFNA has a variety of resources available that help simplify what it means to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Check out our nutrition and fitness page for more information.
  • Be physically active. The CDC recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week to improve health and prevent disease. Even just 10 minutes of physical activity a day can provide benefits.
  • Quit smoking. It’s never too late to quit smoking. Your cardiovascular system begins to heal just 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Check out the LHSFNA’s tobacco cessation resources for more information on how to quit smoking.
  • Drink in moderation, if at all. Heavy drinking is known to be damaging to the cardiovascular system. If you drink, it’s best to limit consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men.

[Hannah Sabitoni]

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